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Infrastructure Bank: Tricky, But Just Do It

Posted by Larry Ehl on Friday, July 27th, 2012

Transportation Issues Daily

Can’t we stop wringing our hands about the concerns of establishing a National Infrastructure Bank and just do it? For years a National Infrastructure Bank has been touted as the “next greatest idea” for financing our most pressing infrastructure needs.  But we don’t seem to get to the next step.  I’ve been critical (see story) of an Infrastructure Bank as a “silver bullet” but supporting the bank as a necessary additional tool to finance transportation projects.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently issued a detailed report which explains how a bank might work, how it can impact the federal budget, and some of the concerns about such a bank.

Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institute reviews and praises the CBO report, while offering five points “in order to make a stronger case for the NIB (“What Would an Infrastructure Bank Really Do?” The New Republic Avenue blog). Puentes observes that “an NIB would ideally focus on projects that are truly national in scope. . . .and they should be granted priority and expedited through the federal review process. The point here is that a NIB shouldn’t be established to enable us to keep doing what we’ve always done.”

Here are Puentes’ third and fourth points:

“Third is that the establishment of an NIB would be a strong signal to the private sector that the national government is committed and open to private involvement in infrastructure financing and delivery. Today private sector financiers and investors are understandably frustrated by the lack of clarity about the rules of engagement that is–as in many states–a real hindrance to the development of the public-private partnership market.

The fourth point is that an NIB would provide technical assistance and expertise to states and other public entities that cannot develop internal capacity to deal with the projects themselves. Some of the most potentially transformative investments are inherently complex and require a mix of investors from all levels of government, across different federal programs, combined with the private sector, and even from other nations’ sovereign wealth funds. Expertise to consider such deals and fully protect the public interest is paramount.”

Puentes closes by noting that he’s “not naïve” about the issues with a NIB. But some of those issues are being tackled successfully at the state and local level:

“Prickly issues around congressional jurisdiction, project selection, capitalization levels, and financing mechanisms are still unresolved and why the NIB remains as it has been for decades: the next greatest idea. In the meantime, Washington should pay attention to how states and metro areas are getting projects done in this challenging fiscal and policy environment.”

Larry Ehl is the founder and publisher of Transportation Issues Daily. In the public sector, Larry was Federal Relations Manager for Washington State DOT; Chief of Staff to US Senator Slade Gorton; and was twice elected to the Edmonds School Board.

 

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